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Johnson Retirement Gives Senate GOP Another Opportunity

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Johnson’s decision not to seek re-election will make 2014 a harder slog for the Democratic Party.

With the latest Senate Democrat’s retirement announcement, there are now three open Democratic seats in highly competitive states.

That’s half the total number of seats Senate Republicans must net to win the majority.

South Dakota Sen. Tim Johnson announced Tuesday that he will not seek re-election, joining Sens. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and Tom Harkin of Iowa in retirement after 2014. Their departures mark the three most competitive seats of the five Democratic retirements so far this year and offer avenues for the GOP to cut into the majority.

Add in five Democratic incumbents running in states President Barack Obama lost, and the GOP is positioned to pick up a significant number of seats in 2014.

National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brad Dayspring said the “map and conditions have been favorable to Republicans,” but the party must now take advantage of that by recruiting strong candidates and equipping them with well-trained staff.

“To use a sports analogy, we have home field advantage, the weather conditions are in our favor, but you’ve still got to put the best team out on the field and you’ve still got to execute the plays,” Dayspring said.

Of course, Republicans were well-positioned early in the 2012 cycle as well, but suffered a net loss of two seats on Election Day.

Picking up the six Democratic seats needed for the majority remains an arduous feat. To get there, the party would have to match its Election Day output in the wave election cycle of 2010 — the previous midterm. Republicans won six seats that November, plus the Massachusetts special Senate election earlier in the year.

It’s too early to know what the political atmospherics will be headed into the fall of next year.

For now, Democrats remain optimistic they can recruit candidates to hold their open seats and that most of the party’s vulnerable incumbents will be able to hang on in Republican-leaning states. They certainly did last year in Montana and Missouri, and the party held an open seat in North Dakota, where Obama lost by about 20 points.

“D.C. Republicans seem overconfident once again, even though the math is much more difficult for them this cycle and their influence with the conservative base has waned,” said Matt Canter, deputy executive director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “The Republican establishment claims they are going to do a better job managing the tea party and handpicking mainstream candidates that can win, but they don’t seem to have any good strategy to do that.”

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